Here at MIMC, we talk a lot about the importance of skin health and how to choose wisely when it comes to personal care products. While we often think about what we put on our skin and its impact on our physical health, did you know that this relationship is also bidirectional? That means that what’s going on inside our bodies also impacts the health of our skin.
Perhaps you’ve noticed this relationship before. Have you ever experienced skin breakouts around your period? How about a rash that seems to get worse after you eat certain foods? Think of your skin as a mirror for what is going on inside your body.
The biggest connection we see between our internal and external health is the relationship between gut and skin health. In a paper published in 2008, researchers found individuals with acne rosacea to exhibit significantly higher prevalence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) compared to controls. Even more convincing, when the SIBO was eradicated, the participants’ rosacea also markedly improved.
If we think of the skin as a mirror, imagine that this mirror is giving us a glimpse into the health of our digestive tract. Many, though not all, skin conditions appear to have a digestive-based root cause. That should come as no surprise when we think about all the different functions our digestive system provides (supporting liver detoxification and mental health, just to name a few). So, exactly how does the gut impact our skin? Let’s dive in.
The Gut-Skin Axis and How It Can Contribute to Skin Issues
The gut-skin axis is mediated predominantly by the intestinal microbiome. The gut microbiome influences the development of skin-related conditions, such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis, through interactions between intestinal microbes and various cellular pathways. As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, microbes in our digestive tract produce compounds called metabolites that can travel throughout the body and produce different effects.
When it comes to skin conditions, these metabolites appear to specifically influence skin cell growth and inflammation. Under normal circumstances, the communication between metabolites and these various cellular pathways promote optimal skin health. However, when the gut is out of whack, this communication gets mixed up and can lead to some undesirable side effects (hello, acne).
Intestinal permeability and low stomach acid are two common causes for unpleasant digestive issues. Intestinal permeability, also known as “leaky gut” occurs when the cells lining the digestive tract are not sitting tightly next to one another, allowing foreign compounds to enter the bloodstream. This can lead to both localized and systemic inflammation.
Inflammation is also a primary contributor to the development of acne and other skin conditions. Intestinal permeability can be a result of many different causes, including intestinal dysbiosis, unresolved food sensitivities or intolerances, chronic use of NSAIDs (OTC painkillers), and intake of inflammatory foods.
Low stomach acid is also frequently associated with acne. When the stomach doesn’t have enough acid, bacteria that typically reside in the colon migrate up into the small intestine creating what is called intestinal dysbiosis and SIBO. Our small intestine is where the majority of nutrient absorption occurs. When we have a larger population of bacteria residing in the small intestine, they compete with our body’s nutrient requirements and can impair the absorption of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Specific nutrients, such as zinc, selenium, chromium, vitamins A and E, and folate are essential for skin health. Deficiencies in these nutrients have been indicated in the development of acne and other skin conditions.
How to Use Food as Medicine for Your Skin
Nourish your skin by nourishing your gut! A healthy digestive system is essential for healthy, glowing skin. When it comes to acne, eczema, and psoriasis, a deep dive into your daily dietary patterns is a great place to start.
- Focus on a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet with an emphasis on high-fiber, plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.
- Include sources of omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, halibut, cod, tuna, mackerel, sardines) two to three times per week.
- Experiment with an elimination diet to explore if/how unresolved food sensitivities are impacting your gut and contributing to your symptoms.
- Include pre- and probiotic foods daily (we have a list here).
- Add bitter foods (bitter greens, dark chocolate, coffee, etc.) or a digestive bitter supplement to stimulate stomach acid production.
Want to learn more about digestion and skin health? Schedule a complimentary, 15-minute consultation to explore how your digestion may be impacting your skin.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.